Posit: Apple Is The Richest And Most Under-Staffed Company In Tech ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)
Anyone who follow Apple closely knows that they are a bundle of paradoxes. One of the most baffling of these is that Apple has literally tens of billions in excess cash but seems always to be chronically short of critical software engineers.
Benedict Evans, above, wonders aloud “whether” Apple was understaffed. Rene Ritchie, below, wonders “why.”
How much by design and how much by scarcity of resource is interesting to ponder. ~ Rene Ritchie (@reneritchie)
I think I know the answer to that question, but I’ll let you be the judge.
Two Possible Reasons
Quality is more important than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles. ~ Steve Jobs
Apple values quality over quantity and quality takes time, regardless of how many software engineers one puts on a project. A reasonable explanation.
When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can oftentimes arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don’t put in the time or energy to get there. ~ Steve Jobs
Apple values simplicity and simplicity takes time. Another valid explanation for Apple’s seeming tardiness.
The Real Reason
Here, in my opinion, in the real reason why Apple is always chronically understaffed:
I found that there were these incredibly great people at doing certain things, and that you couldn’t replace one of these people with 50 average people. They could just do things that no number of average people could do. ~ Steve Jobs
Apple tries to hire only exceptional people and refuses to fill in the gaps with average employees.
The following quote is rather long but it is — again, in my opinion — the answer to the question of why cash rich Apple seems to be so continuously understaffed:
[pullquote]It is infinitely better to have a few good men than many indifferent ones. ~ George Washington[/pullquote]
I observed something very early on at Apple, I didn’t know how to explain it then, but I’ve thought about it since. Most things in life, the dynamic range between “average” and the “best” is, at most, two-to-one. If you get into a cab in New York City with the best cab driver, as opposed to the average cab driver, you’re probably going to get to your destination with the best cab driver maybe thirty percent faster… Or a CD player, the difference between the best CD player and the average CD player is what? Twenty percent? So two-to-one is a big dynamic range in most of life. In software — and it used to be the case in hardware too — the difference between the average and the best is 50 to one. Maybe one hundred to one. Very few things in life are like this, but what I’ve been lucky enough to spend my life in is like this. ~ Steve Jobs
Is It Worth It?
[pullquote]Two Eskimos were sitting in a kayak chatting. After a while they got a bit chilly, but when they lit a fire in the craft, it sank . . . I guess this just goes to show that you can’t have your kayak and heat it, too.[/pullquote]
The problem with the above philosophy is that it seems to fly in the face of Jobs’ other mantra that “real artists ship.”
In typical Steve Jobs fashion, I think he expected his people to do the impossible — to be understaffed AND to ship on time too. And in typical Steve Jobs fashion, they sometimes — but not always — did the impossible.
Query: Is the tradeoff worth it? Can Apple continue to operate continuously understaffed? Because I believe that it is no accident but, rather, a very conscious policy and a key component of their business model.
Perhaps only posterity will be able to accurately judge.
Stay hungry, stay foolish. ~ Steve Jobs